Four Lansdowne High School community members gave emotional testimony at a state hearing today, urging top Maryland officials, including Gov. Larry Hogan, to reject a Baltimore County plan to renovate the aging school instead of replacing it.
"I shouldn't have to feel like I failed as a parent, sending my kids to receive a fair public education, when they're sweating in there," said Dayana Bergman, a Lansdowne High advocate whose child will be a freshman there next year. "And I don't know the long term health effects that this has impacted on my children."
The county's interim superintendent, Verletta White, presented a funding request to the Board of Public Works, which authorizes state funding for school construction projects. Hogan sits on the board with Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp.
The funding request included a plan for a $60 million renovation for Lansdowne — a renovation parents have said will not go far enough.
"As a taxpayer and a teacher, I'm begging the Board of Education and the Board of Public Works reject the $60 million renovation," said Jim Melia, a Lansdowne teacher, who spoke after White had presented her funding requests. "We need a new school."
Shortly after Melia began speaking, the superintendent and her staff left the room.
Hogan interrupted Melia, saying: "I just want to point out, by the way, that your entire school system walked out and they're not listening to your testimony," Hogan said. "But we're gonna listen."
Through her spokesman Mychael Dickerson, White said she left because she had a personal appointment following the Board of Public Works meeting.
"I also wanted to de-escalate the tensions in the room," White added. "There was never any intention to disrespect our community members."
Melia, who said he was testifying as a taxpayer, named issues he said could not be fixed by a renovation, including too-small classrooms, faulty pipes and level changes that make the school inaccessible to people with disabilities.
Because Lansdowne is in a lower economic area, he said, it is "getting the short end of the county stick."
Hogan and Franchot grilled the superintendent on the state of Lansdowne and other aging schools.
Hogan asked White why replacing Lansdowne and Dulaney High School, another aging building, were placed lower on the county's funding priority list.
"We receive more comments about these two schools than any other place in the county," Hogan said. "So we were surprised to see that it wasn't an important priority for the school system."
"There are palatial and pristine school facilities across all of Baltimore County," Franchot said. "But I can't for the life of me understand how and why school officials have punted, year after year after year, the responsibility of addressing the unacceptable health, safety and maintenance issues that exist at Lansdowne."
"Lansdowne High just wants the same treatment and consideration that communities in more affluent ZIP codes receive," Franchot said.
"I was taken aback by the harsh tone but this is not about me personally," White said after the meeting in a statement provided by her spokesman. "I can handle spirited conversations when it is about providing the best possible learning environments for our children."
Hogan praised the county for bringing the 48 county schools without air conditioning down to 13 after the Board of Public Works pressured them to do so last year.
In response to the board's questions, White insisted that the school system shares their urgency.
"There is no intention on behalf of anyone in the school system to withhold a 21st century learning environment," she said. "Many of us got into this for children. And that's still why we're doing this: for children."
"Well, you still seem to be behind 20 of the other counties," Hogan replied.
Bergman said that when the superintendent and her staff left the room, she followed them and asked them to come back inside.
"I asked our school district to please come back in here," Bergman said. "Please don't walk away from us."
This story has been updated to include comments from Superintendent Verletta White's office.